The final addition of our Lockdown Success Stories is none other than Re:Treat Apothecary. With Kathryn’s original business of Re:Treat Complementary Therapies completely halted due to lockdown restrictions, she managed to turn every business owner’s biggest fear into a blessing in disguise. Thanks to a lot of extra time on her hands, Kathryn was able to fully develop her flourishing passion of creating natural, eco conscious cosmetic products into the thriving business that it is today.
We caught up with Kathryn to find out more about her inspiring business journey, and how she was able to overcome the enormous challenges of being a business owner during the pandemic…
Tell us a little bit about your business and how it started.
“I have owned Re:treat Complementary Therapies for about 15 years, where I offer different types of massages, reflexology and aromatherapy services. I usually do this with individuals on a one-to-one basis, but also within a group setting and going to people’s workplaces to offer treatments. Part of my business also involved hosting aromatherapy workshops and yoga days in partnership with yoga instructors but then of course, lockdown happened, so I had to close my doors very quickly.
“I then had the opportunity to diversify and bring to life a project I had been working on behind the scenes for a long time, which was Re:Treat Apothecary. This is our natural, handmade cosmetics which are cruelty free, vegan and made from organic ingredients with sustainable packaging.
“Since I was already an aromatherapist, I had been making these kinds of products for years and giving them to family and friends, adapting my recipes and tweaking them as I went. People were starting to say “you must sell them”, but it’s quite a big process getting something from the kitchen table to being sold as a fully realized product. I already had my business and a toddler so it just was never going to happen, until lockdown came along and I had more time on my hands!”
Why did you start your business? What was the inspiration behind it?
“I really love working with people, so my business in terms of the Complementary Therapies is very much a personal service. I’ve really missed that connection with my clients throughout lockdown, however, the apothecary side of things is still very much about connection and keeping that alive in terms of reconnecting with nature.
“All of our ingredients are completely natural and the reason we look to make things organic isn’t for the benefit or the use of the product, it’s for the wellbeing of the planet. When our ingredients are grown, there’s no chemicals involved in the process, and no harm to the soil or the waterways.
“With the packaging, we wanted to make sure that everything is 100% plastic free, it’s recyclable and we’ve also started getting a refill service in motion so that our products are closed loop. Customers can now send their packaging back to us to be refilled, and we now have 11 retailers across the country which are also refill points too.
“We want to keep the idea open about reconnecting with nature and what that means, so we’re always open to new ideas and looking at new ways we can do that. I think that’s been a big thing for everyone during lockdown - we’re all getting outside a lot more and being aware of our impact on the planet and how each choice that we make every day can have an impact on the world around us.”
Tell us a little bit about your customers - are they mostly people who are already familiar with eco conscious products?
“It’s a real mix actually. I initially launched my business with the website, which means I’m not actually seeing my customers, so I had this impression that it would be people who were vegan or already had that kind of awareness around sustainability. But a lot of the feedback and the reviews we’re getting are from people who have had the product recommended to them.
“A lot of my customers are actually people who maybe had quite low expectations of what a natural eco-conscious product would do, and then once they’ve tried something like our natural deodorant, they realize that it really works and in some cases is better than what they were using before. They come back to me and say “wow I’m really surprised because this wasn’t my thing”. This is often the first point where they’re trying something natural or organic which makes me really proud.
“There have been orders coming from all over the country, but it has been mostly people from the local area that have been my main customer base. It’s been amazing to see that local support coming through in the recommendations and people spreading the word, I think for a lot of our customers it’s exciting that something new is happening in their local area and they can tap into it or drop me a message and speak to a real person who can give advice.
“It’s also great that more businesses are making it easy for people to access these eco friendly products where it’s straightforward and easy - it means people are more likely to try it. There has been a big change in the quality of natural products, so we’re upping our game to give people something they can buy with the certainty that it can be a really luxurious product that’s also effective.”
How have you found the last year, running a business during a pandemic?
“It’s been pretty wild! There’s been huge changes with the therapies side of the business and I’m often having to adapt at very short notice. There was a period of time in between the two lockdowns where I could reopen for my therapies and that was a challenge in itself having to adapt to new Covid measures but also trying to support people when they are also going through the pandemic. It can be a very stressful time and I do work with people who have been in very testing situations, so I wanted to be there for them.
“Right now I’m trying to plan my time going forward. The therapies are due to reopen at the end of April so I’m now looking to get the balance between therapies and apothecary. I still work on my own - thankfully my husband’s work has changed so he helps out a lot with the business and we have our little girl - it’s a lot of juggling, changing and re-evaluating and of course, babysitters!
“I’m really excited to get back to my therapies - I’m a therapist first and foremost and I love working with people, so I’ll be doing that two days a week, and then the rest of my time will be dedicated to the apothecary. Not all parts of the business will be going back to normal straight away - I used to do some group events which will still be on hold for a while.
“I feel so fortunate that the apothecary has taken off and flown, I had no idea how successful it would be or if it would be successful at all. It really just started as a bit of a lockdown project that I had wanted to do for years, so I’m really really grateful for how successful it’s been. But obviously, lockdown has been challenging for everyone - the silver lining was that I had the time to launch the Apothecary.”
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced throughout the pandemic?
“I think planning is challenging, because with any good business you have to do your research and have a rough kind of plan - which is always open to change when you need to, but with so much uncertainty, planning has become very difficult. It can be a benefit because it means you can let go and just go with the flow a lot more, but we all like a bit of certainty in our lives!
“I must admit, I do feel grateful that I’m a small business because I’ve been able to change direction quite easily. When you have a big business it’s much more difficult to maneuver within the market, and some of them haven’t survived through the pandemic! So I am really fortunate to have kept my business small and local.
What has been your biggest accomplishment you’ve achieved in the last year?
“There have been quite a few, and I do try to focus on these when it’s been such a difficult year. One of the biggest accomplishments is the fact that we first launched with our natural deodorants in June and on the very first day they sold out!
“At that point I realized this was going to be bigger than what I had ever expected, and it’s just grown since then. Once we launched, local shops got in touch to say they were interested in what we were doing and we’ve had amazing support since, particularly from shops with similar ethics to ourselves. Now we’re stocked in a series of different eco shops and refill zero waste shops across the North East and Scotland. We’ve had our first retailer in England who now stock us, so word is spreading. At the beginning it was a lot of work for us to get our name out there but now people are contacting us which is just fantastic, it’s such a good feeling!
“The best feeling however, is when the reviews start rolling in. It’s wonderful when people get in touch and give us stars, that’s the biggest success for me. Online selling can be a bit faceless so anything that gives a little bit of connection makes such a difference. The product I’ve made in my kitchen is what people are loving and using everyday, which is amazing!
“Another big accomplishment is that we’ve recently started a group of human testers, as I used to always test on my friends and family, which was great but there’s only so many of them. Some of them are too polite as well so it’s been really beneficial to get real honest feedback from other humans. Our next product is coming out later this year and they are currently in the process of testing it at the moment which is really exciting.”
How do you think you’ve managed to turn such a negative event into a positive for your business?
“I think I was fortunate that I already had this project running in the background for a few years. But really, I took time and space - I didn’t jump into it straight away which I think really helped in the long run. This year has been so challenging for everyone, when we all found out we were in lockdown last year, I really felt that I needed to take time to pause, reflect and process it all first, before beginning my new project.”
How have you managed to stay connected with your customers in the past year?
“I did actually host one real life market stall at Christmas time so I got to meet some of my customers then. That was fantastic because I’m used to working with real people, so it was really good to see customers and connect with them face to face.
“I already had a bit of a social media presence with the therapies, but it definitely increased that during lockdown and the amount of people who have contacted me has been amazing. To see my customers share their photos and their own experiences with the products is so rewarding, and really helps to get the word out there. Most days I will get messages from potential customers who are maybe looking to try it but have a few questions and I'm totally happy to answer them. I love being able to chat and share my knowledge.”
What are your favourite local businesses right now and why?
“I feel really fortunate to have connected with quite a few local businesses and have stocked some of our products. There’s the Butterfly Effect in Insch, Refillosophy, Swish Swish Bish and Bonobo in Aberdeen.
“There’s a big movement in eco-conscious businesses at the moment as well which I love to see. There’s Taylor Made Refills - Carol creates natural based cleaning products that are all refillable. She’s been a massive support for us! And Mydlo creates amazing soap and solid shampoo bars, they’re Aberdeen based so if you want to reduce the amount of plastic you’re using in your bathroom it’s a great place to start.
“There are local businesses who are working really hard to create eco-friendly products which is really inspiring to see, and it’s a really supportive community. The majority of these businesses are female owned too, which we all just love to see.”
Why do you think it’s so important for people to buy local, particularly during this pandemic?
“I think it’s important to the businesses because these are our little babies and our dreams that we’re keeping alive, especially when it’s a business that’s passionate about their ethics - if you’re supporting the business, you’re supporting those ethics as well.
“It’s beneficial for the customer too - you’re receiving a much more personal service, you know you can have trust in the company and in the products because you often know the person it’s been handmade by. You can even ask them for guidance and questions, it’s much more personal.
“At this time when we are all thinking about money being a bit tighter, I think people are becoming a bit more conscious about how they are spending it, what impact they want to have with that money and on the planet. It’s all about the bigger picture.”